The government believes some 500 MNLF (a Moslem separatist group that made peace with the government in 1996) members took part in an attack on the southern port city of Zamboanga. This was apparently an effort to disrupt peace negotiations with the MILF. Before this the MNLF had, for the most part, kept its part of the two decade old peace deal. Many MNLF members joined the police and army and others remained as part of local self-defense militias. But some MNLF members were upset with the peace talks conducted with the MILF, another separatist group that kept fighting and is finalizing a new treaty that will create an autonomous Moslem state in the southern Philippines. These MNLF dissidents resent the attention, and power, being given to MILF. This rivalry with the MILF has been going on for decades, as has the appearance of dissident MNLF groups. One of these made a similar attack in Zamboanga in 2001, which was settled peacefully. But over the last decade some dissident MNLF men have joined Islamic terror group Abu Sayyaf, in addition to those who skirmish with MILF rivals and then make peace. The attack on Zamboanga is quite an escalation in MNLF violence.
MNLF was founded in the early 1970s, about 6 years before the more radical MILF got started. There has always been lots of factionalism in the Moslem south, usually based on clan feuds. But political and religious differences have also caused a lot of unrest. The separatist violence instigated by the MNLF and MILF have left nearly 200,000 dead in the south, most of them Moslems. The current MNLF uprising is largely driven by the fear that the MILF will control the new autonomous Moslem government in the south and will keep most of the money (local government funds, which everyone expects will be plundered by government, mostly MILF, leaders) for themselves, leaving the MNLF out. People in this part of the Philippines have long gone to war over less.
Originally only 200 MNLF men were believed involved when the fighting began on the 9th. The actual number proved to be much higher. The army began a clearing operation on the 13th and ended up killing 189 MNLF members and captured another 292. As many as a hundred may have gotten away, although the army officially believes far fewer escaped the tight cordon of soldiers and police. Soldiers and police also freed 195 civilians the MNLF were holding as hostages. Over 130,000 people fled their homes and property damage could be as high as $100 million. The army has asked refugees to hold off returning until the army announces that their neighborhood has been cleared of bombs, abandoned ammo, and explosives or hidden MNLF gunmen.
The NMLF leader, Nur Misuari, is being sought and police are still seeking to identify all the dead gunmen, especially to see how many known MNLF fighters died in the violence. At least 5 known MILF leaders were known to be involved in the Zamboanga operation. Most of the fighting took place in a small area of about 30-40 hectares (74-99 acres). Soldiers are now searching buildings in this area to look for booby traps, weapons, and MNLF men trying to escape capture. These searches will continue for about two weeks.
The government is seeking to find out who planned and led this attack and who supplied the arms and ammunition. The fighting went on for so long (over two weeks) because the MNLF gunmen had made preparations and took civilians hostage and used them as human shields. The MNLF men also kept moving around the outskirts of Zamboanga where the fighting took place.
September 29, 2013: In Zamboanga another 7 MNLF were killed when they chose to fight to the death rather than surrender.
September 28, 2013: The army declared the fight against the MNLF in Zamboanga was over. Despite that today another 3 MNLF men were killed after a gun battle that also left 6 soldiers wounded. The army said clashes like this would continue for a few days as MNLF stragglers were hunted down.
September 27, 2013: In the south (North Cotabato) soldiers on patrol encountered some BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) gunmen and captured 3 of them. The captives turned out to be newly recruited BIFF fighters and all were 17 or younger. The army has been vigorously hunting down BIFF members this year. This has resulted in hundreds of rebel casualties and captures. Last September the main Moslem separatist group (MILF) negotiated a peace deal with BIFF, which was then supposed to rejoin MILF and stop causing problems with their attacks on Christians in the south. That has not happened yet and apparently won’t. BIFF contains former members of MILF, something MILF leaders have played down for years. Last year MILF openly agreed with government demands to do something about these "outlaws." BIFF contained about a thousand armed men earlier in the year and MILF sought to negotiate a peace deal with the dissidents while publicly insisting that it would crush these rebel rebels. BIFF had become increasingly violent and outspoken about how MILF is selling out Moslems. Now MILF will have to use force to coerce the BIFF outlaws to get with the new peace deal. Otherwise the treaty will turn into a civil war within the new Moslem homeland down south. BIFF refused to comply with the peace deal it made with MILF last year, and the current army operations are not being opposed by MILF.
September 26, 2013: In the south (Cotabato province) someone (probably the NPA) used explosives to take down an electricity transmission tower cutting electrical power for parts of Mindanao Island.
Fighting continues in Zamboanga, leaving 3 soldiers and 2 MNLF gunmen dead. Many businesses in the areas of MNLF violence have started to reopen, but soldiers are still present in large numbers seeking dozens of MNLF gunmen still believed on the loose.
September 25, 2013: In Zamboanga the army says that they have killed 135 MNLF gunmen so far.
September 24, 2013: In Zamboanga the army arrested 5 soldiers caught looting the home of a local politician. The looters were caught by other soldiers and disarmed.
September 23, 2013: In the south (Cotabato province) soldiers clashed with some BIFF rebels. As army reinforcements arrived the BIFF men retreated, taking 4 of their dead with them. 4 soldiers were killed in the fighting.
September 22, 2013: The government is rushing disaster relief aid to Zamboanga, where about 10 percent of the city population has fled their homes to escape the fighting with MNLF gunmen. These refugees need shelter, food, and medicine.
September 19, 2013: The MNLF gunmen fighting on Basilan Island, since shortly after the violence erupted in Zamboanga, has largely ended. People who fled their homes are returning and troops are still looking for any remaining MNLF fighters. In Zamboanga about a hundred civilian hostages of MNLF escaped as a large number of soldiers approached the area where they were being held. Troops and police have so far taken control over 70 percent of the Zamboanga area MNLF held when the army began its offensive on the 13th.
September 17, 2013: The police chief of Zamboanga, taken prisoner by MNLF gunmen he went to negotiate with (about freeing their civilian hostages), convinced his MNLF captors to surrender. The police chief called off the soldiers and police who had come to rescue him and brought out the 23 MNLF gunmen who were holding him.
September 16, 2013: In the south (Davao City) bombs went off in 2 movie theaters (each inside a shopping mall) but there were no injuries. In Zamboanga the army began using armed helicopters against the MNLF rebels.